The Thirty-Six Strategies is a unique collection of ancient Chinese proverbs that describe some of the most cunning and subtle strategies ever devised. Whereas other Chinese military texts such as Sun Zi's The Art of War focus on military organization, leadership, and battlefield tactics, the Thirty-Six Strategies are more suitably applied in the fields of politics, diplomacy, and espionage. These proverbs describe not only battlefield strategies, but tactics used in psychological warfare to undermine both the enemy's will to fight - and his sanity. Tactics such as the 'double cross', the 'frame job', and the 'bait and switch', can be traced back through thousands of years of Chinese history to such proverbs as 'Hide the Dagger Behind a Smile', 'Kill With a Borrowed Sword', and 'Toss out a Brick to Attract Jade' respectively. Though other Chinese military works of strategy have at least paid lip service to the Confucian notion of honour, the Thirty-Six Strategies make no pretence of being anything but ruthless.
For the western reader the Thirty-Six Strategies offers timeless insights into the workings of human nature under conditions of extreme stress. Many of the proverbs are based on events that occurred during China's Warring States Era (403-221 BC). This was a time so infamous, that a later Emperor banned history books of that era on the grounds that they contained accounts of such a devious nature, they would morally corrupt all who read them. Many of those accounts are presented here along with the exploits of some of the orient's greatest generals, kings, emperors, and shoguns. Over 118 anecdotes are included to both explain and offer examples of each strategy's application. By learning from the old masters of the art of deception, one is better able to spot the modern pretenders, for, though the players come and go, the game remains the same.
The origins of the Thirty-Six Strategies are unknown. No author or compiler has ever been mentioned, and no date as to when it may have been written has been ascertained. The first historical mention of the Thirty-Six Strategies dates back to the Southern Chi dynasty (AD 489-537) where it is mentioned in the Nan Chi Shi (History of the Southern Chi Dynasty). It briefly records, "Of the 36 stratagems of Master Tan, running away is the best." Master Tan may be the famous general Tan Daoji (d. AD 436) but there is no evidence to either prove or disprove his authorship. While this is the first recorded mention of Thirty-Six Strategies, some of the proverbs themselves are based on events that occurred up to seven hundred years earlier. For example, the strategy 'Openly Repair the Walkway, Secretly March to Chencang' is based on a tactic allegedly used by the founder of the Han dynasty, Gaozu, to escape from Szechwan in 223 BC. The strategy `Besiege Wei to Rescue Zhao' is named after an incident that took place even earlier in 352 BC and is attributed to the famous strategist Sun Bin.
All modern versions of the Thirty-Six Strategies are derived from a tattered book discovered at a roadside vendor's stall in Szechwan in 1941. It turned out to be a reprint of an earlier book dating back to the late Ming or early Ching dynasty entitled, The Secret Art of War, The Thirty-Six Strategies. There was no mention of who the authors or compilers were or when it was originally published. A reprint was first published for the general public in Beijing in 1979. Since then several Chinese and English language versions have been published in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Without any other information, current speculations about the origins of the Thirty-Six Strategies suggest that there was no single author. More likely they were simply a collection of idiomatic expressions taken from popular Chinese folklore, history, and myths. They may have first been recorded by general Tan and handed down verbally or in manuscript form for centuries. It is believed that sometime in the early Ching dynasty some enterprising editor collected them together and
The original text of The Secret Art of War, is rather short, (138 Chinese characters). It merely names each strategy followed by a brief explanation. The book was divided into six categories of six strategies each. The six categories are said to correspond to six situations. They are; Stratagems when in a superior position; Stratagems for confrontation; Stratagems for attack; Stratagems for confused situations; Stratagems for gaining ground; and Stratagems for desperate situations. This division is based on the hexagrams of the I-Ching (A hexagram being a grouping of six broken or unbroken lines). In addition, the explanation of each strategy is likewise said to be based on the interpretation of each hexagram as found in the I-Ching. Initially all this seemed to imply an almost scientific approach, but on closer examination I found the structure flawed. My guess is that elements of I-Ching numerology were added at some time merely to create an aura of mystery and antiquity, (a not uncommon practise among publishers during the Ming and Ching dynasties). Since the six subtitles did little to improve understanding, I did not use them in compiling the present text, but kept to the original sequence of strategies.
I used anecdotes primarily from both China's and Japan's 'Warring States' eras, since, though separated by more than a thousand years, those eras most closely reflected the tone of the strategies. My apologies to serious scholars for I rewrote the explanations and historical anecdotes so that they would be clearer to western readers. Any mistakes and errors are my own. I also added opening quotes from other Oriental works on strategy, and a summary. The resultant manuscript is not a direct translation, nor a list of historical facts, but rather a retelling of Chinese folklore, or more specifically military lore. Research notes are included in the endnotes for those interested in consulting the sources.
Fool the Emperor to Cross the Sea
Moving about in the darkness and shadows, occupying isolated places, or hiding behind screens will only attract suspicious attention. To lower an enemy's guard you must act in the open hiding your true intentions under the guise of common every day activities.
Japanese Folk Tale
There once lived a Samurai who was plagued by a large and clever rat who had the run of the house. This annoyed the Samurai to no end so he went to the village to buy a cat. A street vendor sold him a cat that he said would catch the rat and indeed the cat looked trim and fit. But the rat was even quicker than the cat and after a week with no success the Samurai returned the cat. This time the vendor pulled out a large and grizzled cat and guaranteed that no rat could escape this master mouser. The rat knew enough to stay clear of this tough alley cat, but when the cat slept, the rat ran about. Half the day the rat would hide, but the other half he again had the run of the place. The Samurai brought the cat back to the vendor who shook his head in despair saying he had given the Samurai his best cat and there was nothing more he could do. Returning home with his money, the Samurai happened upon a monk and sought his advice. After hearing the Samurai's story the monk offered him the services of the cat that lived in the temple. The cat was old and fat and he scarcely seemed to notice when he was carried away by the doubtful Samurai. For two weeks the cat did little more than sleep all day and night. The Samurai wanted to give the cat back to the temple but the monk insisted he keep him a while longer assuring him the rat's days were close to an end. The rat became accustomed to the presence of the lazy old cat and was soon up to his old tricks even, on occasion, brazenly dancing around the old cat as he slept. Then one day, as the rat went about his business without any concern, he passed close by the cat - who swiftly struck out his paw and pinned the rat to the floor. The rat died instantly.
Besiege Wei to Rescue Zhao
When the enemy is too strong to attack directly, then attack something he holds dear. Know that in all things he cannot be superior. Somewhere there is a gap in the armour, a weakness that can be attacked instead.
Warring States Era China
This strategy derives its name from a famous incident that occurred in 354 BC. At this time one of China's most renowned strategists, Sun Bin (A descendent of the even then famous Sun Zi) was an advisor to the king of Qi. Sun had earlier been at the court of Wei but another minister, Pang Juan, became jealous of Sun's cleverness. Through court intrigues he had Sun framed as a spy, sentenced to mutilation, and imprisoned. Sun escaped and fled to Qi. Several years later the king of Wei appointed the same Pang Juan as commander of the army and sent him to attack the capital of Zhao. The king of Zhao immediately appealed to Qi for help. The king of Qi consulted his advisors who all spoke in favour of rushing to aid their ally, only Sun Bin recommended against attacking. Sun advised: " To intervene between two warring armies is like trying to divert a tidal way by standing in its path. It would be better to wait until both armies have worn themselves out." The king agreed to wait.
The siege of Zhao had lasted more than a year when Sun Bin decided the time was ripe to come to Zhao's aid. The king of Qi appointed prince Tian Ji as general and Sun as military advisor. Tian Ji wanted to attack the Wei forces directly to lift the siege of Zhao, but again Sun advised against direct intervention saying: " Since most of Wei's troops are out of the country engaged in the siege, their own defence must be weak. By attacking the capital of Wei, we will force the Wei army to return to defend their own capital thereby lifting the siege of Zhao while destroying the Wei forces in turn." Tian Ji agreed to the plan and divided his army into two parts, one to attack the capital of Wei, and the other to prepare an ambush along the route to the capital.
When the Wei general Pang Juan heard that the capital was being attacked, he rushed his army back to defend the capital. Weakened and exhausted from the year long siege and the forced march, the Wei troops were completely caught by surprise in the ambush and suffered heavy losses. Chao was thus rescued while Pang Juan barely escaped back to Wei to recoup his losses. Sun Pin would later defeat his nemesis Pang Juan using another classic strategy.
Kill with a Borrowed Sword
When you do not have the means to attack your enemy directly, then attack using the strength of another. Trick an ally into attacking him, bribe an official to turn traitor, or use the enemy's own strength against him.
Warring States Era China
Chang Tuo defected from Western Zhou and went to Eastern Zhou where he revealed all of Western Zhou's state secrets. Eastern Zhou rejoiced while Western Zhou was furious. Minister Feng Chu said to the king of Western Zhou: "I can assassinate that man if your highness will give me thirty catties of gold." The king consented and the next day Feng Chu sent an agent to the Eastern Zhou court bearing the gold and a letter addressed to Chang Tuo. The letter read: `This is to remind Chang Tuo that you must complete your mission as soon as possible for the longer the delay the more likely you will be found out.' Before the first agent departed, Feng Chu then sent another agent to the Eastern Zhou border guards informing them that a spy would be crossing the border that night. When the second agent arrived at the border he was stopped and searched. The border guards found the gold and the letter to Chang Tuo and turned them over to the Zhou court officials. Shortly afterwards Chang Tuo was executed
Await the Exhausted Enemy at Your Ease
It is an advantage to choose the time and place for battle. In this way you know when and where the battle will take place, while your enemy does not. Encourage your enemy to expend his energy in futile quests while you conserve your strength. When he is exhausted and confused, you attack with energy and purpose.
Chinese Folk Tale
The emperor Xuan of Zhou loved to gamble on cock fights and kept a stable of specially bred fighting roosters. Although they were strong and fierce they would nevertheless lose against the roosters trained by Ji Xing Ze. The emperor therefore hired Ji to train his roosters.
Ten days had passed when the emperor went to the stables to ask if they were ready to fight.
"No." said Ji, " They are far too fierce and proud of their strength. They rush to attack even the slightest noise."
After another ten days passed the emperor returned to enquire again.
"Not yet. They are still haughty and jump at everything that moves."
After another ten days the emperor again asked the question.
"No, still not yet. Although they no longer rush to attack, they still raise their hackles and stare fiercely at the slightest provocation."
After yet another ten days the emperor again asked if the roosters were ready.
"Yes, they are nearly ready. Although some still crow from time to time, none ever change their countenance. From a distance they appear as steady is if they were made of wood. Before them, their untrained opponents would not dare accept their challenge and could only turn back and run."
Loot a Burning House
When a country is beset by internal conflicts, when disease and famine ravage the population, when corruption and crime are rampant, then it will be unable to deal with an outside threat. This is the time to attack.
Warring States Era China
Qi and Han were allies when Chang Yi attacked Han with the combined forces of Qin and Wei. Han asked Qi for assistance. The king of Qi said:" Han is our ally and since Qin has attacked her we must go to her rescue." But his minister Tian-chen Su disagreed saying: "Your majesty's planning is faulty. You should merely agree to assist Han but take no action there. However, in the kingdom of Yan, their king has recently resigned the throne to his despised prime minister. This has enraged both the noble houses and the common people causing turmoil at court. Now if Qin attacks Han, Chu and Chao will surely come to her aid and this will be as good as heaven bestowing Yan upon us."
The king approved and promised the Han envoy assistance before sending him back to Han believing he had Qi's backing. When Qin attacked Han, Chu and Chao intervened as expected. While all the major kingdoms were thus engaged in the battle for Han, Qi quickly and quietly attacked Yan. Within thirty days Yan was captured.
Clamor in the East, Attack in the West
In any battle the element of surprise can provide an overwhelming advantage. Even when face to face with an enemy, surprise can still be employed by attacking where he least expects it. To do this you must create an expectation in the enemy's mind through the use of a feint.
Song Dynasty China
Once there was an official who was transferred to the capital. The front part of the inn where he stayed was a teahouse, and across the street was a shop that sold expensive dyed silks. Whenever he had nothing to do, he would sit at a table watching the people and activity on the street. One day he noticed with surprise that several suspicious looking characters were walking back and forth observing the silk shop with great interest. One of them came up to his table and whispered: "We're in the robbery business and we're here to steal those fine silks. Since you noticed us I came to ask you not to mention it."
"That has nothing to do with me," the official replied. "Why should I say anything about it?"
The fellow thanked him and left him. The official thought to himself: 'the silk shop has its wares openly displayed on a busy street. In broad daylight, with a thousand eyes watching, if they have the skill to steal those silks, then they must be smart thieves indeed.' So he watched carefully to see how they would manage it. But what he saw was only the same people walking back and forth in front of the silk shop. Sometimes they gathered on the left, sometimes on the right. The official sat watching until after sunset when everyone had gone and the shop had closed. "Those fools." said the official to himself. "They were putting one over on me." When he returned to his room to order some food, he discovered that all his belongings were gone.
Create Something From Nothing
You use the same feint twice. Having reacted to the first and often the second feint as well, the enemy will be hesitant to react to a third feint. Therefore the third feint is the actual attack catching your enemy with his guard down.
Tang Dynasty China
During the An Lushan rebellion in 756 AD the Tang general Chang Shun was under siege by the forces of general Linghu Chao. Outnumbered twenty to one, the defending Tang forces soon ran out of arrows. To remedy this general Chang ordered his men to make straw dummies and to dress them in black uniforms. That night the dummies were lowered over the city walls by ropes, accompanied to the beat of war drums and gongs. General Linghu thought the enemy was launching a surprise night offensive and ordered his archers to shower the figures descending the walls with arrows. Once the dummies where riddled with arrows the Tang soldiers pulled them back up the walls and thus restored their supply of arrows.
The next day general Linghu realized he had been tricked and attacked the walls in revenge for being humiliated. That night the Tang again lowered the dummies but General Linghu ordered his men to ignore them believing it was the same trick to get more arrows. When general Chang saw that no one was firing at the straw dummies, he ordered that five hundred of his best troops be lowered instead. They made a lightning raid on the encamped soldiers who were caught completely by surprise. The siege was lifted and general Linghu's army fled the field.
Openly Repair The Walkway, Secretly March to Chencang
Attack the enemy with two convergent forces. The first is the direct attack, one that is obvious and for which the enemy prepares his defense. The second is the indirect, the attack sinister, that the enemy does not expect and which causes him to divide his forces at the last minute leading to confusion and disaster.
Muromachi Period Japan
In 1560 one of Japan's greatest warlords, Oda Nobunaga, then still a minor commander, marched his force of 2,000 men to stop the incursion of a rival warlord Imagawa Yoshimoto. Even though Nobunaga was outnumbered twelve to one he set out humming a tune. Nobunaga's scouts reported that Imagawa was resting his troops at a village that was nestled near a narrow gorge that Nobunaga knew would be ideal for a surprise attack.
The scouts further reported that Imagawa's troops were celebrating and viewing the heads taken in a previous battle. Nobunaga devised the following ploy. He made camp some distance away from the village. He placed numerous flags and had straw dummies made to give the impression that a large host had arrived. Imagawa's forces thus expected an attack to come from the direction the enemy camp. Meanwhile Nobunaga's troops secretly made a forced march in a wide circle in order to come up from behind the Imagawa encampment. Weather favored Nobunaga's scheme for late in the day there was a heavy downpour. Taking advantage of the foul weather, Nobunaga's troops launched a sudden attack from the rear. So unexpected was this attack that Imagawa a first thought that a brawl had broken out among his own troops. Only when he saw two enemy Samurai charging towards him did he realize he was under attack. The realization came too late and Imagawa was beheaded and his troops scattered. The battle lasted only a few minutes but it made Oda Nobunaga's reputation and he quickly rouse in power until he became one of Japan's greatest warlords.
Observe the Fire on the Opposite Shore
Delay entering the field of battle until all the other players have become exhausted fighting amongst themselves. Then go in full strength and pick up the pieces.
Hojo Regency Japan
In 1583 the great general Toyotomi Hideyoshi was positioning his forces against Akechi Mitsuhide in what would be the battle of Yamazaki. Shortly after the battle had engaged, Tsetsui Junkeian, an ally of Mitsuhide arrived on the scene. Impressed by the superior forces of Hideyoshi, he refused to attack but instead ordered his men to line up in battle formation on a hill above the Hora-ga-toge pass where he could watch the battle before deciding which general to side with. Seeing Hideyoshi gaining the advantage he betrayed his ally and sent his troops over to Hideyoshi's side. This incident was never forgotten and henceforth the Japanese equivalent of `Watching the fire...' is known as `To wait at Hora-ga-toge.'
Hide Your Dagger Behind a Smile
Charm and ingratiate yourself to your enemy. When you have gained his trust, you move against him in secret.
Warring States Era China
The king of Wei sent a beautiful courtesan to the king of Chu who took great delight in the new girl. His queen, Zheng Xiu, knowing how fond the king was of his new woman, treated the newcomer as a sister supplying her with gifts and treasures and whatever she needed. The king hearing of this summoned his queen and said: AA woman serves a man with her beauty and thus jealousy is a part of her very nature. Yet you, knowing how much the new woman pleases me, have treated her more kindly than I have myself. These actions are those of a child to her parents or a minister to his ruler, how unexpected it is to find this in a queen to her husband." The queen thus knew that her husband did not suspect her of jealousy. When she next met with the new girl the queen told her: "His majesty is much taken with your beauty but he dislikes the shape of your nose. When next you serve him be sure to cover it with your hand." Grateful for the advice, when she next served the king this is what she did.
The next day the king asked his queen: "The new woman covers her nose when she is with me. Do you know why?"
"I know." replied the queen.
"Well then no matter how unpleasant you must tell me the reason."
"It seems she does not like the way your majesty smells."
"The shrew!" cried the king.
In a rage the king ordered that the unfortunate girl's nose be cut off.
Sacrifice the Plum Tree In Place of the Peach
There are circumstances in which you must sacrifice short-term objectives in order to gain the long-term goal. This is the scapegoat strategy whereby someone else suffers the consequences so that the rest do not.
Three Kingdoms Period China
On one of his campaigns Cao Cao was running short of food. He asked his supply sergeant what he could do. The sergeant suggested reducing the rations by secretly using a smaller cup to parcel out the rice. Cao Cao praised the sergeant and gave his consent to use the smaller measuring cup. After a few days the soldiers began to complain and accused their commander of cheating them. Cao Cao again called in the supply sergeant and told him the situation.
"I will do anything I can to help but what would you have me do?" asked the sergeant.
"I'm afraid I am going have to borrow your head." replied Cao Cao and he had the sergeant decapitated and his head stuck on a tall pole with a banner that read "Caught cheating on supplies by using a smaller measuring cup."
Seize the Opportunity To Lead a Sheep Away
While carrying out your plans be flexible enough to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself, however small, and avail yourself of any profit, however slight.
Yuan Dynasty China
During the final days of the Yuan dynasty, rebellion had broken out throughout the empire. Initially there were several contenders vying to be the first to found a new dynasty on the imminent fall of the house of Yuan, but the field was narrowed to two; Chu Yuan-Chang and Chen Yifu. The two armies met at Poyang Lake where a naval engagement was to take place. General Chen had the advantage of both troops and ships. His ships were large and sturdy and he had them lined up side to side across the entire expanse of the lake. He furthermore had the ships joined together with iron chains so as to create an impenetrable barrier. General Chu sent his ships to attack but they were defeated having failed to break through the cordon. Fortunately for Chu the next day a violent northwest gale began to blow. Since Chen's flotilla was situated downwind, Chu took advantage of the situation to launch fireboats against the barrier. Soon Chen's troops were in a frenzy to save their ships from both the rising storm and the fire, which was fanned into a blazing fierceness by the wind. Taking advantage of the panic and confusion that ensued, Chu launched his own fleet into the attack and they completely defeated Chen's forces. An arrow through his eye killed General Chen while general Chu became the founder of the Ming Dynasty.
Beat The Grass To Startle The Snake
When you cannot detect the opponent's plans launch a direct, but brief, attack and observe your opponent reactions. His behavior will reveal his strategy.
The notorious eunuch Zhao Gao is credited with helping to bring down the house of Qin ending Chinas first and shortest imperial dynasty. After the first emperor died he conspired with the chief minister Li Si to dispose of the legitimate heir to the throne and install a weak and corrupt puppet emperor Huhei. (See Chapter 14) Having established his influence over the young emperor, Zhao Gao was nervous about possible opposition from the other ministers of state. So he devised a test to see which ones would be faithful to him. One day he brought a stag into the court and presented it to the emperor explaining that it was a horse.
"Youre mistaken, Prime Minister, said the emperor, Youve called a stag a horse.
Zhao Gao turned to the other ministers present and asked them whether it was a horse or stag. Some kept silent, others in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the true power behind the throne agreed it was a horse, and still others said it was a stag. The emperor was under Zhao Gaos control to such a degree that he believed he was going insane and that the stag really was a horse. Meanwhile, one of Zhao Gaos spies was recording the answers given by each of the ministers. Afterwards, Zhao Gao secretly framed charges against all those who had said it was a stag and had them executed.
Borrow a Corpse to Raise the Spirit
Take an institution, a technology, or a method that has been forgotten or discarded and appropriate it for your own purpose. Revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose or to reinterpret and bring to life old ideas, customs, and traditions.
Han Dynasty China
When the emperor Huidi died in 188 BC he left no heir. His mother, the empress Lu, bought a child several years before his death and had her daughter-in-law pretend that it was her own. To cover her tracks the empress had the boy's natural mother executed. After the emperor's death, the empress had this boy installed on the throne with herself as regent. However, within two years the boy, after learning that his true mother had been executed, was heard to say: "When I become emperor I will know what to do." When the empress's spies reported the words spoken by the young emperor she had him murdered and another puppet set in his place. The empress ruled a prosperous empire for eight years through the six successive child emperors that she installed on the throne before dying of a mysterious illness. Rumor said her death was the result of a curse from one of her late husband's concubines, who was horribly mutilated and tortured according to the empress's precise instructions. The empress Lu is remembered in Chinese history as one of three notorious `dragon ladies' who had seized the imperial throne.
Lure the Tiger Down the Mountain
Never directly attack a well-entrenched opponent. Instead lure him away from his stronghold and separate him from his source of strength.
Three Kingdoms Period China
In the year 199, Sun Ce had consolidated his newly conquered territories in the south and his next goal was the prosperous area of Lujiang to the north. However, Lujiang had a professional army and was well defended. In addition it also had the advantage of terrain, being accessible only through a couple of easily defended passes. Sun Ce's advisors cautioned against moving directly against such a well-entrenched and powerful state so they devised another scheme. Sun Ce sent an emissary laden with gifts and a letter to the king of Lujiang, Liu Xun. The letter praised the King's military skills and begged for his assistance. Sun Ce wrote: " For years the state of Shangliao has invaded my territory unhindered and carried away booty, yet we are too weak to launch a retaliatory raid. If Your Majesty would attack Shangliao we would give assistance and you could annex the state for yourself." Flattered and covetous of increasing his domains, The king of Lujiang disregarded the advice of his counselors and attacked the state of Shangliao. Several weeks later, while the king of Lujiang was busy laying siege to Shangliao's capital, Sun Ce attacked the almost undefended Lujiang and easily seized the capital. Without the expected support from Sun Ce, The king of Lujiang failed to take the capital of Shangliao and he returned only to find his own capital already in enemy hands. Sun Ce now had the advantage of the Lujiang terrain and the former king could do nothing but flee with his army.
To Catch Something, First Let It Go
Cornered prey will often mount a final desperate attack. To prevent this you let the enemy believe he still has a chance for freedom. His will to fight is thus dampened by his desire to escape. When in the end the freedom is proven a falsehood the enemy's morale will be defeated and he will surrender without a fight.
Six Dynasties Period China
During the Southern Song period, general Tan Dao-Ji launched an attack against the north on behalf of the emperor. Throughout the campaign he seized cities and destroyed fortifications, taking more than four thousand prisoners. His advisors suggested that he should execute them all and erect a victory mound with the dead. Tan Dao-Ji replied: "At this time we have attacked the guilty and consoled the people. The army of a true king takes the upright as its position, so why is it necessary to slay the people?" He released all the prisoners and sent them back to their homes. These former prisoners told their kinsmen of their capture and release and of the fair treatment they received at the hands of general Tan. Thereupon the barbarians dwelling in the region were elated, and wherever general Tan, went a great many came forward to give their allegiance to the emperor.
Toss Out A Brick To Attract Jade
Prepare a trap then lure your enemy into the trap by using bait. In war the bait is the illusion of an opportunity for gain. In life the bait is the illusion of wealth, power, and sex.
Warring States Era China
The earl of Zhi was preparing to attack Lesser Wei. To prepare for his attack he presented the king of Wei with four hundred mustangs and a beautiful white jade Bi. The king was overjoyed and his ministers all offered their congratulations, but one minister, Nan-wen Ci looked distressed. The king seeing his demeanor asked: "The great state is very pleased with us! Why then do you look troubled?" The minister replied: "One must always examine thoroughly a reward given for no merit and deference shown where no force has been applied. Four hundred mustangs and a white jade Bi constitute the kind of gift a small state might give when serving a great one. But in this case the larger state makes the gift. Your majesty should ponder this." As a precaution, the king of Wei told his commander of the border guards what his minister had cautioned and ordered his troops to be on full alert. Shortly thereafter, as the minister intimated, the earl of Zhi arrived at the border at the head of a large army. But when the earl saw the border guards posted at full strength, he retired saying: "Alas, there are worthy men in Wei, for they have anticipated my plans."
To Catch the Bandits First Capture Their Leader
If the enemy's army is strong but is allied to the commander only by money or threats then, take aim at the leader. If the commander falls the rest of the army will disperse or come over to your side. If, however, they are allied to the leader through loyalty then beware, the army can continue to fight on after his death out of vengeance.
Spring and Autumn Period China
In 756 BC the rebel commander Yin Ziqi led an army to lay siege against the strategic city of Suiyang. The defending commander, Zhang Xun, noticed that Yin Ziqi oversaw the siege from well outside the range of the city's archers. He believed that if he could take out the leader the rebel's morale would sink and he would be able to launch a counter attack. He devised a plan with his best archers. The next time the rebels assailed the wall they were to shoot back using the branches of trees. When Yin Ziqi heard that the defenders were reduced to shooting with branches he felt certain the city was ready to be taken. Before the next assault he moved in closer to better oversee the final victory. Riding atop his horse he unknowingly came within range of the archers who had saved their arrows for just such a moment. One arrow hit Yin Ziqi in the left eye killing him instantly. The spectacle of their commander's death in front of almost the entire rebel army served to demoralize them to such an extent that they dispersed the field.
Steal The Firewood From Under the Pot
When attacking a strong force it is difficult to attack it directly as it stands. In these cases, one attacks the corners. In large scale battles, after careful inspection of the enemy's forces, one can gain advantage by attacking the corners of exposed strategic points. When one has eliminated the strength of the corners, the strength of the whole will also be diminished. .
When faced with an enemy too powerful to engage directly you must first weaken him by undermining his foundation and attacking his source of power.
Three Kingdoms Period China
The rebel warlord Cao Cao was on campaign against general Yuan Shao when he was joined by a third general Hsu Yu who inquired about their current situation. Cao Cao replied: " We have only one month of supplies left while general Yuan has a year's worth of provisions stored within easy access at his garrison at Wu Chao. As it stands now we will be defeated within a month." General Yu thereupon devised the following stratagem. He ordered a division of his elite cavalry to dress as Yuan troops and to muffle their horses hooves by wrapping them in cloth. The disguised cavalry set out the next night carrying Yuan banners. Whenever they encountered a real Yuan patrol or checkpoint, the captain would tell them they were safeguarding Yuan's rear against a possible sneak attack. Silently arriving at the garrison by dawn, the elite cavalry took the Yuan troops by surprise and succeeded in setting fire to the stores. When the report made its way through the Yuan army that their provisions had been destroyed they quickly surmised that they were now the ones at risk of starvation. The Yuan troops lost their will to fight and three days later General Yuan Shao was defeated and killed.
Warring States Era China
The king of Wei had amassed and trained a large army with which he intended to expand his territories. The strength of his army frightened several neighboring barons and princes into supporting his dreams of conquest and, with twelve lords pressed into an alliance, he went to the emperor to receive permission to increase his territories. With his imperial blessing in hand the king of Wei first set his sights on Qin. The king of Qin realized his territory would be the first to fall under the Wei expansion and convened his council for advice. One advisor by the name of Wei Yang asked permission to travel to Wei so that he could prevent the army from attacking.
"And how do you plan to accomplish this? Asked the king ."Have you not heard that defeat can be achieved at a banquet, generals captured while in a sitting room, cities razed between wine and the spiced meat, and a battering ram broken by a sleeping mat." The king confessed he hadn't and gave permission for Wei Yang to travel to Wei and try this unusual strategy. When Wei Wang arrived at the Wei court his reputation enabled him to have an audience with the king. There he said to the king: " Your majesty's accomplishments are great. Your order is obeyed throughout the land, and you are leader of the twelve lords. Soon you will control enough of the country to become emperor. However, to be recognized as emperor you must look and act like an emperor. The first step would be to build a palace befitting an emperor of the realm." The king was flattered and immediately began construction on a massive scale to increase the size of his palaces. Then Wei Yang told the king: A Now you must begin to look like an emperor and wear the scarlet robes, raise the nine pennants of power, and fly the flag of the Red Bird constellation,( regalia that only an emperor could assume.) The king's vanity could not resist flaunting his power openly and he was soon walking about dressed in red robes and accompanied by imperial pennants and flags. It soon became apparent to everyone in the empire that the king of Wei had visions of becoming emperor. This angered the noble houses especially those of the more powerful kingdoms of Chu and Qi, any one of whom would have a far more legitimate claim to the throne than that provincial upstart, the king of Wei.
Through Wei Yang's subtle manipulations the twelve lords were persuaded to secretly switch their allegiance to Qi. When a large Qi army penetrated the Wei border, the king of Wei called on the twelve lords to stop the invasion. But they captured the king instead and placed him in prison. When the Qi army arrived they installed another prince on the throne of Wei and, to prevent Wei from becoming too powerful in the future, parceled out much of its territory to the neighboring kingdoms. Thus, while the king of Qin sat calmly watching, Wei Yang was able to avert the impending attack by Wei, bring down its king, and annex a portion of Wei territory, without so much as drawing a weapon. After receiving the king's honors Wei Yang said; "This is what is meant by defeat achieved at a banquet, generals captured while in a sitting room, cities razed between wine and the spiced meat, and a battering ram broken by a sleeping mat."
Legendary Era Japan
Japan's ancient hero Yamato Takeru was one of the eighty children of emperor Keiko. One day he was sent to kill a notorious outlaw who was such an expert swordsman that all who had gotten in his way were killed. Yamato Takeru did not intend to duel with the bandit andpretended to be ignorant of the man's reputation in order to befriend him. They became such good friends that they even went swimming together on a regular basis. When Yamato Takeru was assured the bandit harbored no suspicions he was ready to act. One day when they went swimming he brought with him a wooden sword that he hid in his travel kit. They were in the habit of racing each other around a small island but this time while they were racing Takeru let the bandit take the lead and, once he was out of sight behind the island, Takeru swam back to shore and quickly replaced the bandit's sword with the wooden one. After they had gotten dressed Takeru turned to the bandit and revealed his true purpose. The bandit immediately went for his sword, but the wooden sword had become wedged in the scabbard. While he was struggling to draw the wooden sword, Takeru took the bandit's head off in a single stroke.
The source of an opponent's strength lies in wealth, resources, or manpower. If in wealth, cause him to incur expenses, if in resources, disrupt the lines of distribution, if in manpower, sow discord
Trouble The Water To Catch The Fish
Before engaging your enemy's forces create confusion to weaken his perception and judgment. Do something unusual, strange, and unexpected as this will arouse the enemy's suspicion and disrupt his thinking. A distracted enemy is thus more vulnerable.
Spring and Autumn Period China
In 632 BC the armies of Jin and Chu faced each other at Chengbu before the battle of the same name. Chu sent an envoy to Jin requesting to fight a chariot duel the next day to which the Jin ruler, Duke Wen, agreed. In the morning Duke Wen climbed to the top of an observation tower and looking down on his camp's preparations said: A Young and old conduct themselves according to ritual. They are fit for use!" He then ordered his troops to cut down trees to be used as part of an unorthodox tactic. While the chariot duel was underway Duke Wen launched a sudden cavalry attack against the Chu right wing causing it to collapse in. At the same time as the right was being pushed into the main body, the Jin troops in the center raised the retreat pennants and began pulling back. As the Jin troops retreated they dragged behind them the trees they had cut down earlier that morning. This raised such a dust cloud that the Chu commanders thought the Jin were fleeing in panic and eagerly gave chase. When the main body of the Chu army was enveloped in the cloud of dust they were unable to see that the Jin forces had split into two divisions and had turned around. The Jin attacked in a classical pincer movement on both of the Chu flanks. The result was a resounding defeat after which the Chu general was ordered to commit suicide. Duke Wen had taken advantage of the distraction provided by the chariot duel to launch both a surprise attack, and a retreat, manipulating the Chu forces into a trap.
Shed Your Skin Like the Golden Cicada
Although it does not mindfully keep guard,
In the Small mountain fields,
the scarecrow does not stand in vain.
Bukkoku Kokushi i
When you are in danger of being defeated, and your only chance is to escape and regroup, then create an illusion. While the enemy's attention is focussed on this artifice, secretly remove your men leaving behind only the facade of your presence.
Han Dynasty China
In 204 BC the king of Han, Gaozu after escaping his exile through the use of the strategy Openly repair the walkway... suffered several defeats at the hands of his old nemesis; the warlord of Chu, XiangByu. Outnumbered and defeated Gaozu, fled with his remaining troops to Jung-yang where he fortified the city and prepared to make a counter attack. Xiang-yu, however, laid siege to the city cutting Gaozu,s supply lines and avenue of escape. One of Gaozu,s commanders, Ji Hsin, devised a scheme to escape, he said: "The situation is very grave. I beg you to let me deceive Xiang-yu for you by taking your place as king. In this way you will be able to slip away in secret." Gaozu agreed and, while he prepared his escape, Ji Hsin had two thousand women from the city dressed like Han soldiers. Before dawn he had the women march out the front gate and form battle lines. The army of Xiang-yu rushed to formation expecting a final showdown with Han. As the first light of dawn began to break, Ji Hsin rode forth in the yellow draped imperial carriage of the king and announced to the Chu army: "The food in the city is exhausted. The king of Han surrenders!" While the army of Chu was celebrating their victory, the king of Han and thirty horsemen slipped quietly out of the city. When Xiang-yu learned of the deception he had general Ji Hsin burned to death. The king of Han made good his escape and two years later returned at the head of a new army. This time he was victorious while the defeated Xiang-yu was hunted down and killed. Gaozu went on to found China's longest dynasty, the Han, in 202 BC .
Three Kingdoms Period China
The warlord Cao Cao of Wei, was pursuing the fleeing army and population of Shu led by the heroes of the Peach Grove, Liu Pei and Chang Fei. The retreating column came upon the Changpan bridge over the Wei river with the enemy army only hours behind. On the opposite side of the river there was heavy forest. Chang Fei turned to his general Liu Pei and said: "This bridge is the only crossing point for miles and provides us with an advantage. You take the army and people across while I hold off the Wei army to give you as much of a lead as possible." After the Shu army had crossed over, Chang Fei sent his small group of cavalrymen across the bridge into the forest where they tied branches to their horses tails and rode around in circles. Chang Fei remained sitting on his charger in the middle of the bridge. When the pursuing army of Wei came upon the sight of Chang Fei alone on the bridge they stopped. Cao Cao noticed the huge dust cloud in the distance behind the woods and suspected a trap. Chang Fei roared out a challenge to the Wei army but Cao Cao, now convinced this was a ruse, turned his men around to retreat. Chang Fei seeing the Wei army turn about spurred his charger towards the Wei as though to attack them single handedly. This so unnerved the Wei forces that they made a mad scramble to escape the area convinced a trap was closing around them. This trick bought Lui Pei and Chang Fei enough time to escape with their men and regroup at Chianling.
Six Dynasties Period China
In 431 the Song emperor Wendi launched a campaign to win back the province of Honan, which was under the control of the kingdom of Wei. The emperor sent his general Tao-cu in charge of the army to attack Wei. The Song army fought and won more than thirty engagements penetrating deep into Wei territory. Now every commander knows that when an army is deep inside enemy territory his supply lines are the most crucial and vulnerable. Wei took advantage of this weakness to secretly send a detachment of cavalry that succeeded in cutting off the Song supply lines. The Song army was without provisions and in desperate straits. Tao-cu was planning to retreat but this would leave the army extremely vulnerable to a rout and slaughter. To make matters worse, many of his soldiers, afraid and starving, deserted to the Wei side and divulged to Tao-cu's the plan to retreat. The Wei readied their forces to pursue the Song the instant they broke camp. To avert the impending tragedy, Tao-cu devised a stratagem. During the night he ordered his troops to carry baskets of sand and pile them into great heaps within the compound. The Wei scouts listening to the nightlong commotion were curious and crept closer to the Song positions in order to see by first light what was happening. Tao-cu then had the piles of sand covered by a thin layer of grain. The next morning the Wei scouts where shocked to see huge piles of grain that they assumed were smuggled in during the night. When the Wei commander heard this, he suspected that the deserter's reports were a ruse to lure him into a trap, and had them all executed. The Wei cancelled their planned attack. Two days later the Song army quietly escaped to their home territory
Hojo Regency Japan
In 1331 the emperor Go-Daigo rebelled against the Hojo Shogunate, which had ruled over a series of puppet emperors. The emperor fled Kyoto with the imperial regalia and took refuge in a mountain monastery. The emperor's loyal commander, Kusunoki Masashige, in order to divert the impending attack away from the emperor, erected a wooden palisade on the side of the mountain. When the Hojo army arrived they saw the poor construction of the defenses and rushed to attack the encampment. Kusunoki's troops, though numbering less than five hundred, had constructed several ingenious defenses such as pit-falls, trenches, and logs suspended along the steep slopes that they could unleash to roll down onto the advancing attackers. After several failed attacks the Hojo troops resolved to blockade the fort and starve the defenders out. Kusunoki had only a few days worth of supplies left and he knew that his troops would soon be too weak to fight. So he devised a strategy in which he could escape without pursuit. A huge funeral pyre was prepared and covered with the bodies recovered from the field of battle. One volunteer remained behind to light the fire and wait for the Hojo troops. Under cover of darkness Kusunoki and his troops quietly escaped through a hidden trench cut through the stockade. Once they were in the mountain forests their familiarity with the terrain enabled them to disperse into the undergrowth. At the same time the funeral pyre was set ablaze and it burned so brightly that it lit up the sky. The Hojo sent scouts to find out the cause of the blaze. When they found the compound deserted the Hojo troops rushed in only to find a huge funeral pyre with a solitary attendant kneeling before the fire. When he was questioned he told them that Kusunoki and his troops, knowing they would be defeated, committed suicide en mass. As the Hojo could see burning bodies among the embers they believed the story and did not search for any remaining troops. Kusunoki escaped that night and he continued to fight for the imperial house for another seven years. He became known as one of Japan's greatest heroes renowned for his unflinching loyalty to the emperor.
It is a well-known rule of war that troops are extremely vulnerable when retreating. A strong attack against retreating troops usually leads to a rout and slaughter. Whenever you are moving troops, leave behind something that will divert or slow potential pursuers.
Shut the Door to Catch the Thief
If you have the chance to completely capture the enemy then you should do so thereby bringing the battle or war to a quick and lasting conclusion. To allow your enemy to escape plants the seeds for future conflict. But if they succeed in escaping, be wary of giving chase.
Warring States Era China
In 449 BC the state of Wu had invaded the state of Yue and carried off its duke Guo Jian holding him prisoner for three years before releasing him back to his kingdom. When he returned Guo Jian planned his revenge. For seven years he ruled with benevolence and generosity making a reputation as a wise and virtuous ruler until he felt his loyal subjects were prepared to undergo any hardship for him. He accordingly assembled his forces and attacked Wu gaining a decisive victory.(See Chapter 5) The king of Wu had to flee but it would only be a matter of time before he was caught. He sent ambassadors to Guo Jian begging for mercy. They reminded him of how Wu, though she had him firmly in her grasp, had released him to return to his state. The king of Wu now asked to be granted the same favor. Guo Jian was contemplating granting this appeal when his prime minister Fan Li intervened and said: "When heaven gave the duke of Wu the grand opportunity for gaining power he did not take advantage of it and so he is a fugitive today. Should you fail to accept what fortune has now given you, you may be driven from your state, and then all the years of hardships you have bourn will have been endured in vain." The duke was swayed by the argument and sent the ambassador back with the message that he would not grant any mercy. When the king of Wu received the message he gave up all hope and committed suicide.
Befriend a Distant Enemy to Attack One Nearby
It is known that nations that border each other become enemies while nations separated by distance and obstacles make better allies. When you are the strongest in one field, your greatest threat is from the second strongest in your field, not the strongest from another field.
Han Dynasty China
In 110 AD the province of Honan had suffered through droughts and floods, the harvests were poor and the people starving. The corrupt government only made matters worse and soon the whole province was in chaos. The numerous bands of bandits and robbers that roamed the countryside pillaging and terrorizing the population thwarted any hope of bringing in outside relief. A provincial official by the name of Yu-Hu was appointed full powers to try to restore some order to the province. When he arrived at the district capital he issued a notice that he was going to organized a military force and that he was looking for recruits. First he promised a pardon for past crimes and immunity for anyone who joined up. Then he announced that he was looking for men for three classes of troops. The first class of troops were to consist of men who had committed robbery and murder. They would be the commanders and receive the highest salaries. The second class would consist of men who had committed mere thievery. They would receive the next highest salaries. The third class would consist of men who had joined the robber bands simply because they were lazy and wished to avoid real labor. They would be paid the lowest salaries. Within a couple of weeks Yu-Hu had over three hundred new recruits. When they had been issued uniforms and weapons he had them paraded before him and addressed them as follows: "Your past deeds are now forgiven and you are free from prosecution. But you must still atone for the cri
Borrow the Road to Conquer Guo
Borrow the resources of an ally to attack a common enemy. Once the enemy is defeated, use those resources to turn on the ally that lent you them in the first place.
Spring and Autumn Period China
The small states of Yu and Guo bordered the larger state of Jin. Duke Xian of Jin desired to conquer both states. This desire was not unknown to the two smaller states and both had taken steps to defend their borders with Jin. The duke's general, Xun Xi, suggested they make a roundabout attack at Guo through the state of Yu to catch them by surprise. General Xun suggested that since the duke of Yu was a greedy man he could be bribed with gifts of jade and horses in exchange for safe passage through his territory. Duke Xian objected to the idea of giving away so much treasure and asked: "What if the duke of Yu accepts our gifts but refuses us passage?" but general Xun replied: "If he doesn't intend to let us through, then he wouldn't accept them, but if he does accept the gifts, and he does let us through, then it will only mean that the treasure is stored temporarily in his storehouse rather than ours."
When the bribe was sent to the duke of Yu one of his ministers, Gong Ziqi, cautioned against accepting them saying: "Yu is to Guo, like lips are to teeth. Our ancestors had a saying; `If the lips are gone, the teeth will be exposed to cold'. That Guo is able to exist depends on Yu while Yu's ability to survive hinges on Guo. If we make way for Jin, then the day will see Guo perish in the morning to be followed by Yu in the evening. Why should we ever let Jin pass?" The duke of Yu, however, refused to listen to this advice. Jin was given safe passage and succeeded in conquering Guo. On their way back they stopped to conquered Yu. After taking the Yu capital and recovering the treasure, general Xun returned the jade and horses to the duke. Duke Xian was pleased and said in good humor "The jade is untouched but the horses seem to have gained some more teeth!"
Replace The Beams With Rotten Timbers
Disrupt the enemy's formations, interfere with their methods of operations, change the rules in which they are used to following, go contrary to their standard training. In this way you remove the supporting pillar, the common link that makes a group of men an effective fighting force.
Six Dynasties Period China
In 383 emperor Fu Jian of Qin, personally led an advance guard of 5,000 horses to attack the Jin general Xie Shi. Discovering that the Jin forces were greater than he anticipated, the emperor had his army form defensive positions along the bank of the river. The Jin armies likewise encamped on the opposite side. Neither side wished to cross first since it was well known that an army is most vulnerable when crossing a river. General Shi sent an envoy across the river with a message that read: " My lord, your army has entered deeply into our territory, and in deploying your ranks you have crowded upon the river. This is the plan for a lengthy stalemate. Do you really want to fight? If you will order your men to withdraw to a safe distance and allow us to cross we can then fight it out and settle the matter quickly."
The emperor agreed to the request. When his advisors objected, emperor Fu Jian told them that he planned to turn his army about and attack the Jin after half their troops had crossed. But general Xie anticipated the emperor's treachery and sent scouts disguised as imperial troops to infiltrate the Qin ranks. When the emperor ordered his army to pull back, the disguised Jin troops began to incite panic by spreading the rumor that Qin was withdrawing in defeat and that Jin was in hot pursuit. The retreat quickly turned into a rout as the Qin troops broke formation to escape. The emperor and his generals raced frantically after the fleeing soldiers with whips in hand to stop them, but to no avail. The Jin army quickly crossed the river and pursued the Qin forces inflicting enormous casualties. The emperor was wounded and